Chasing Pods #1: Disgraceland

“Shut out the lights, crawl under the covers, and let me creep you out.”

The dangerous and glamorous world of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has captured people’s attention since before we knew what to call it. Music breeds fame and power unlike any other creative endeavor, and the ones at the top are living everyone’s fantasy. The rock stars. We love them and we love it more when they behave badly.

With Disgraceland, Jake Brennan goes into the seedy underbelly of rock n roll, the superstars who get away with murder and the culture that lets them. Each 30-minute episode tackles a scandal from the music scene, like Sam Cooke’s death, Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopez’s arson charges or Norwegian Death Metal’s connection to satanism, murder, and cannibalism. In upcoming episodes, the independently produced podcast will take on The Rolling Stone’s drug problems and the murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.

“Rock stars… real rock stars are endlessly entertaining,” said narrator and producer Jake Brennan. “They leave us tidbits of their lives in their songs and we, as listeners, hunger for more.”

That’s what makes Disgraceland stand out in the crowded genre of true crime. The wild world of rock n roll makes a perfect backdrop for stories of murder, addiction, or revenge. Rock stars already grab our attention with their music or their antics. “When they veer off the straight and narrow it’s so much more interesting.”

Part true crime and part audio drama, Brennan weaves fact with dramatization. He compares Disgraceland with other true crime adaptations like Narcos and The People vs. OJ Simpson. The stories are rooted in fact (or rumor) but the first purpose is to tell a compelling story. “The responsibility is to entertain… At least this is Disgraceland‘s responsibility.”

And Brennan knows how to tell a story. The first episode recounts the death of Shawn Michelle Lewis, the fifth wife of Jerry Lee Lewis – famous for ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and also an alleged psychopath who was nicknamed ‘The Killer.’ There’s fact, theories, and speculation. Brennan is a musician and he knows how to write a hook.

The world Brennan creates is immersive; even his voice has a punk rock feel that helps you get lost. It’s almost as if he relishes describing the heinous acts, like he’s enjoying imagining the internal monologue of a criminal. Disgraceland is unapologetic; every story is salacious, dangerous and even a little glamorous.

It’s becoming more and more relevant to wonder if we can ever separate an artist’s work from their bad behavior. Almost daily, more people in entertainment are being exposed as monsters, and we’re left to wonder if watching reruns of The Cosby Show is wrong. Can you enjoy “Great Balls of Fire” knowing that Jerry Lee Lewis may have been a murderer? Do you want to listen to Beck’s “Loser” while wondering in the back of your mind whether or not his connections to Scientology led people to suicide?

The more that’s revealed about an artist, the more one’s perception of their art changes. And it’s common to hear how a movie, an album, or a show has been ‘ruined’ by its star’s bad behavior. Oftentimes we choose between separating it or ignoring it. But Brennan asks us to confront it.

“I don’t separate it,” said Brennan. “I think a musician’s fucked up life or upbringing is usually directly responsible for how great their music is.”

At the end of the day, Disgraceland isn’t about telling you what to listen to or who to believe. It’s not even about getting to the hard truth or sticking to the facts. That’s not what these infamous rumors have ever been about, anyway. It’s about telling a good story set to good music. Brennan, like many of his subjects, just wants to entertain.

“Shut out the lights, crawl under the covers, and let me creep you out.”   

Disgraceland is independently produced and (usually) releases on a bi-weekly schedule. Visit Disgraceland on Podchaser to listen with your favorite app, and leave it a rating or review.

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